High on a hill above the city, the Convento de la Popa was the setting for Saturday's evening concert of Folías Antiguas y Criollas at the Cartagena Music Festival. Jordi Savall and Hespèrion XXI were joined by Tembembe Ensamble Continuo for an evening of music taken from a number of Savall's recordings, juxtaposing European Baroque music with songs and dances from the indigenous peoples of South America.

Folias Antiguas y Criollas © Andrés Londoño
Folias Antiguas y Criollas
© Andrés Londoño
And what a beautiful setting it was. Flowers swaying in the gentle breeze from the upper floor of the quad created a colourful and relaxed setting for an extremely well-judged programme. Outdoor venues have the potential to be tricky for period instruments, even in cities where rain is unlikely to be a concern, but any worries were dispelled the moment the opening Folias floated up to the first floor.

After a slightly studious beginning of two Folías, Hespèrion XXI and Tembembe Ensamble Continuo opened up as they moved into the traditional music of the Huastecs (a region in modern-day Mexico). Zenen Zeferino’s declamation of El cielito lindo heralded the beginning of an evening of celebration, after which everyone on stage was clearly enjoying themselves immensely, whether revelling in traditional dances or exploring the folias.

We also had a wonderful surprise with the addition of dancer Donaji Esparza, who appeared midway through La petenera. She brought a stalking grace to proceedings, and with Zenen Zeferino and Ada Coronel transformed the evening. The most energetic jarochos (a mixture Mexical folk music and Cuban song) also felt totally intimate, as if rather than holding tickets for a concert, we’d been invited to the most wonderful party. Particular highlights were El balajú jarocho which erupted with joy, and the final Jarabe loco, which was exactly as the title suggests!

Folias Antiguas y Criollas © Andrés Londoño
Folias Antiguas y Criollas
© Andrés Londoño

On the more ostensibly serious side, Pedro Guerrero’s Moresca, which followed El balajú jarocho was a perfect match for its energy, and of course what concert of Folias would be complete without a realisation of La Folia, provided here with Antonio Martin y Coll’s Diferencias sobre las folías. It was all the more special for having the air of being completely effortless; an air that can only be achieved by the greatest focus and attention to detail.

Equally was impressive was the fusion of the all the instruments. The jaranas were completely comfortable in the works of Diego Ortiz, Antonio de Cabezon and Francis Correa de Arauxo, while Savall’s 16th century viola de gamba blended perfectly into the dances. It was the perfect blend of authenticity and creativity. The programme had clearly been devised with an understanding of all the instruments involved, and each piece complemented the one that had gone before.

A two hour concert without interval had flown by, but the audience wanted more, and they couldn’t resist; we were treated to an encore of La iguana, complete with Enrique Barona slithering on the floor. It was emblematic of the entire evening; the willingness of all the performers to almost literally throw themselves completely in the music to create a complete performance. A truly magical evening.